Feature: New Porsche Museum
It’s hard not to be impressed by Porsche’s new $200 million museum in Stuttgart...
New Porsche Museum
For a car company with such an illustrious past, it was barely adequate. A small, somewhat dingy space, into which just 20 or so of its milestone cars were crammed for more than three decades to sate the desires of its most ardent fans.
Now after a long wait Porsche finally has a new, state-of-the-art edifice to display its historic car collection in all its glory; a stunning, architectural masterpiece that befits its status as a performance car icon.
The new museum stands like a beacon in the heart of Porsche’s production facilities, at Zuffenhausen, Stuttgart, on the same site that Porsche’s design office was located from 1938 but more recently served as a car park. In an impressive engineering feat, the building’s main section appears to hover in space, the bulk of its 35,000 tonnes supported by just three concrete-reinforced V-shaped pillars.
Designed by Viennese architects Delugan Meissl, the asymmetric, free-floating design cost €100 million ($200 million) and three years to complete, reportedly running well over budget and failing to meet the completion deadline in time for last year’s 60th anniversary celebrations. Such is the price to pay when trying to keep pace with other multi-million dollar, museum extravaganzas created by German rivals Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz (see boxed story overleaf).
But after Unique Cars grabbed a sneak preview prior to its official January 28, 2009 opening, we can say it’s been worth it.
While the exterior façade’s futuristic mix of glass, steel, and mirror tiles is amazing in itself, the display area inside with its stark, white décor that highlights the 80 cars and 200 exhibits spread over 5600 square metres of spiralling floorspace, is truly breathtaking.
Riding the huge elevator to the main hall 10 metres above the reception area, visitors have a choice of following the company’s progress chronologically, via road models displayed on the outer walls, or detouring through central displays that focus on Porsche’s early innovations, motorsport successes and technological achievements.
Either way, the cars are well spaced and easily accessible, allowing a rare opportunity for fans to get up close and personal with of some of Porsche’s most famous and important vehicles.
ROAD TO SUCCESS
Taking pride of place in the ‘pre-1948’ section is a 1939 Type 64, an early example of Dr Ferdinand Porsche’s styling vision and the first car to bear his name. Built to run the Berlin-Rome long-distance race, its flowing curves are courtesy of a hand-formed aluminium body, while its mid-mounted 32hp 1.1-litre boxer four could propel the car to speeds up to 130km/h. The museum’s example was rebuilt using parts salvaged from an original survivor and, while currently missing its internals, the plan is to fully restore this significant car.
Other examples of Dr Ferdinand’s early work include an original VW Beetle ‘People’s Car’, and an electrical wheel hub from the Loehner-Porsche, built in 1900, which pioneered hybrid technology similar to that used on the forthcoming Chevrolet Volt. There’s also a fire truck and a lightweight race car designed during his time as chief engineer at Austro-Daimler.
Beginning the road car story is the Porsche 356 "Number 1", the first car bearing the Porsche name. The
aluminium-bodied, mid-engined sportster rolled out of the Gmund, Austria factory on June 8, 1948. Close by is the equally significant black, 1950 356 prototype, the first production 356 built in Stuttgart. With the VW flat-four engine placed in the rear to save on costs, this car was nicknamed "Ferdinand" after it was presented to Dr Porsche for his 75th birthday.
Porsche built some of its most beautiful and desirable lightweight road racers in the 1950s and ‘60s. Mouth-watering examples on display include a 1954 550 Spyder, notable for wins in the Mille Miglia and Carrera Panamericana races, and a gorgeous 1964 904 Carrera GTS, which featured super-light plastic bodywork, a first for Porsche.
All of Porsche’s ultra-desirable, low-volume supercars are represented: a 1988, twin-turbo, all-wheel drive 959; a 1997 911 GT1, another homologation special of which just 20 were sold for a cool US$1 million each, and a more recent Carrera GT.
Of great interest, too, is the variety of less well-known prototypes and concepts sprinkled throughout the museum, including prototypes of the front-engined 924 and the Boxster, which has not been seen publicly since its unveiling at the 1993 Detroit Motor show.
Two fascinating 911 design studies that were ultimately rejected by Dr Ferry Porsche include the 1959 Type 754 T7 prototype that featured extra rear space to allow room for four people, and the 1970 Type 915 which extended the 911’s wheelbase to comfortably fit adults in the back.
Porsche’s involvement with other industries is on display, including boat and airplane engines and military vehicles like the 1956 Type 597 Jadwagen Concept, an all-terrain vehicle developed for Germany’s Bundeswehr (armed forces). There’s also the very un-Porsche-like C88 Concept of 1994 proposed by Porsche Design as an inexpensive family car for the Chinese market.
With more than 28,000 motorsport victories chalked up by Porsches over the years, it’s hardly surprising that legendary race cars feature prominently. Two arenas dominated in the past by Porsche, the Targa Florio road race and Le Mans 24 Hours, are especially highlighted by winning examples.
Porsche collected a record 11 victories at Sicily’s tortuous Targa Florio, held from 1906 to 1973, and resplendent in pale blue with orange arrow paintwork, is the 1970 908/03 Spyder that Jo Siffert and Brian Redman drove to victory in the 1970 race. Weighing just 545kg and powered by a 257kW, eight-cylinder Boxer engine, the factory racer won three of the four races it competed in.
When it comes to dominant racers though, few had a more fearsome reputation or enviable record as the Porsche 917, particularly in Europe’s endurance races. Several 917 configurations and styles are represented in a six car line-up, none more intimidating than the 1970 ‘Gulf Oil’ coupe with its 463kW, V12 engine. Driven by Pedro Rodriguez and Jackie Oliver, it achieved an average speed of 249.069km/h in the 1000km, Spa-Francorchamps race of 1971 – a record that still stands today.
Not all Porsche’s motorsport forays have been resounding successes, though. The silver, 1962 Type 804, Porsche’s only Grand Prix winner, is evidence of Porsche’s reluctance to fully embrace the single-seater categories. While the striking, all-white, 1969 917-16 with open cockpit and naturally aspirated flat-16 engine, developed for America’s Can-Am series and subsequently dubbed "the truck", got no further than the test track.
Remarkably, most cars on display are in excellent, working condition, ready to be dusted off at regular intervals for participation in various historic events around the world, including our very own Targa Tasmania, Classic Adelaide and Phillip Island Historics. This "Museum on Wheels" approach will ensure regular rotation among Porsche’s 400-strong car collection and encourage repeat visits.
There’s at least one obvious Aussie connection; a 1998 911 coupe painted by Aboriginal artist Biggibilla on the occasion of Porsche Australia’s 50th anniversary. It sat alongside other ‘oddities’ including a four-door, four-seat, 928 wagon presented to Professor Ferry Porsche on his 75th birthday, and the slowest ‘Porsche’ by a mile – a 1959 Schlepper Standard 218. Over 120,000 of these tractors were built under license by Porsche between 1959 and 1963.
Fortunately, Porsche resisted the temptation to incorporate any gaudy special effects. The biggest gimmick is a series of "sound showers" that allow fans to experience the glorious howls of legendary Porsche engines, as well as the Harley-Davidson motor that Porsche Engineering developed for the V-Rod motorcycle. Other exhibits serve to educate and enlighten including a
sliced-down-the-middle 911 and an upside-down 956 demonstrating the benefits of downforce.
The multi-level facility also houses a first-class restaurant, a library of company archives, a museum shop and café/bistro, conference facilities as well as a workshop where you can watch mechanics tinker with museum and customer cars – all ensuring relief is at hand for those family members who’ve seen one too many boxer engines!
Porsche is anticipating 200,000 visitors a year to its new flagship facility; a significant increase on the 80,000-odd pilgrims that previously made the trek annually to its ‘makeshift’ micro-museum.
They won’t be disappointed.
While it’s well known there’s no love lost between Germany’s auto giants, the long held, fierce rivalries are not confined to the showroom floor.
In recent years Volkswagen, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have all unveiled multi-million dollar, architectural monuments for the display of their historic vehicle collections in a form of one-upmanship that shows few engineering or financial bounds.
Opened in 2000, VW’s Autostadt (German for "car city") theme park campus in Wolfsburg includes separate mini museums for each of its brands. Around two million visitors a year flock to the massive complex with its ultra-modern architecture.
The Audi Forum Museum Mobile in nearby Ingolstadt, also opened in 2000, features three floors displaying 50 cars and 30 motorcycles encompassing Audi’s 100-plus year old history.
Not far from the new Porsche Museum, also in Stuttgart is the outrageously lavish Mercedes-Benz museum. Opened to the public in 2006, this stunning $250million building displays 160 of ’Benz’s 515-strong historic vehicle collection over nine, mind-boggling levels.
While just last year BMW re-opened its museum in Munich after a two and half year redevelopment. The display area now extends to more than 5000 square metres and includes 120 vehicles.
The bonus for car enthusiasts visiting Europe, and Germany in particular, is that some of the world’s finest car museums are within a relatively short drive or train ride from one another. Better book that plane ticket!
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